The good news on climate

Climate policy under the Abbott-Turnbull government has been so uniformly grim that it’s sometimes hard to remember how well things are going elsewhere in the world. A few of the most notable developments

* India has ratified the Paris Agreement, a big step for a country which not so long ago was disclaiming any responsibility to act. The EU will follow suit next week, and the agreement will enter into force 30 days after that.

* (H/T James Wimberley) Renewable electricity investment in 2015 was “more than sufficient” to cover the growth in global demand, according a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Unfortunately, fossil fuel capacity is still growing, adding to overcapacity, particularly for coal. But once this idiocy ends, the combination of growing energy efficiency and new renewables will be sufficient to see electricity-related emissions peak and then decline.

* Despite a 60 per cent reduction in the crude oil price, oil demand has barely moved. Admittedly, supply has also been slow to respond, but capital expenditure has been slashed, suggesting that we will see reduced oil production in future.

There’s still the chance of disaster. Should Donald Trump manage to get elected as President of the US, the whole process will be set back (though withdrawing will be difficult to do in a 4-year term of office) as will just about everything else. Currently, that chance is estimated at 30 per cent and falling, which is much better than it was a week or so ago, but still way too high.

But if that can be averted, there’s every chance that the world can reach peak CO2 emissions by 2020 and reduce emissions drastically after that. If that requires sanctions to bring a handful of recalcitrant governments into line, those governments will have well and truly earned it.

36 thoughts on “The good news on climate

  1. Currently, that chance is estimated at 30 per cent and falling, which is much better than it was a week or so ago, but still way too high.

    Now between 18.1% and 28.8%, depending on the forecasting model. The bed-wetters can relax.

  2. Apocalypse. What you say is correct but not really germane to the point I was trying to make, and which was the point of the 538 piece. ie if the result comes down to the wire, (which admittedly all the forecasting models say is unlikely), then it is very likely that Florida will be the swing state again.

  3. @John Goss
    I guess that piece can be read in different ways. I read it as saying that Trump essentially can’t win unless he picks up Florida, whereas HRC has more options. But your reading of it is also valid.

  4. @Julie Thomas
    Julie in the climate change and health unit I teach in, we had several speakers today, and one of them was talking about the climate change computer modelling projections, the data they feed in, how it takes them months to run the projections and so forth. She was saying human beings are the factor that can’t be calculated, so they have to run different paths (emissions as usual, low emissions, and in between) to get the range of expected climate change.

    It was interesting hearing what does and doesn’t go in – apart from the obvious things like greenhouse gases, tree clearing does go in, loss of ice does go in, urbanisation doesn’t at present, etc etc

    But the thing it made me thing of, how interesting it would be to run models using human information to see how much emissions we could reduce under different scenarios – probably would have to start small scale with defined communities, eg you can imagine:
    If we all started commuting by bike, went vegetarian, ate locally grown food, installed solar and wind for local power, reduced reused recycled, etc – what level would that reduce the community’s emissions to – and so on

    So it could be modelled with different inputs depending how much people wanted to do. Of course there are actual sustainable communities doing stuff like that so there is real life data,but it would be interesting if this modelling could be done and publicised more widely, like the IPCC models. I think people would find it very interesting.

    It is of course perfectly possible for people to plan in this way, I just think people (even those who aren’t neoliberals) have become sort of brainwashed by deterministic free market econospeak, and have lost faith in the ability of people to plan and act collectively for the common good. Having computer models might be really helpful in showing people what could be achieved collectively.

    I suppose I partly, like a lot of people in public health, have a bit more faith in this kind of approach because we have seen what could be achieved by a concerted campaign against tobacco. The computer modelling could just be one tool in such a campaign, but I think it could be could be very helpful.

    I also think (and suspect quite a few women think but don’t say so, because we get ridiculed for it) that this apparent belief some have here that we can just go on living as we are but substitute renewable energy for fossil fuel energy is pie in the sky stuff. We need to take concerted, collective action, and change our lifestyles, but as you say, that change could definitely be for the better, not the worse.

  5. Re my comment above – I know there are calculators that do this stuff on an individual (and probably a household) scale, but I was thinking of something a bit more complex that could take a wide range of inputs for a community. Maybe such modelling is already being done somewhere?

  6. @Val

    I don’t know much about computer modelling. I like to imagine that human behaviour can be modelled using dynamical systems theory but that is just a hobby.

    What I am sure about, and why I am optimistic about a reasonable future for us but not the lifestyle we have now, is that enough people will want to do what is best for their community and their planet given the right circumstances.

    Information from computer models can only be a good thing for people to start thinking about what we can do to change our ways. A message that things will be more difficult but that is going to be good for us would not go down well with neo-liberals but the people out here I think are neo-liberal only on the surface.

    Many people say they want to go back to living the old ways – it’s never really clear what they mean specifically lol there is a lot we don’t want to go back to – and so many people out here live very simple lives that they maybe wont’ have to change that much.

    One of the problems I see is the lack of computer and internet skills and the resistance to the internet being a good thing in older women particularly which is not surprising. There needs to be services in these areas so that it is easy for everyone to access centrelink, health and other services from a community centre or hall where people get together so that information about particular needs can be identified.

    Local council needs more community workers and good ones. The last one we had was useless but the new one is really really good and people go to her for all sort of information and this really makes a difference in how much community stuff that makes people happy and healthy gets done.

    I agree that attitudes can change very quickly given the right circumstances; we are a groupish species and we will work together against a common enemy – climate change – when we all understand that it is happening and we can do something about it.

  7. @Julie Thomas
    Well I don’t know much about dynamical systems theory, or about computer modelling in practice – I’m just talking broad ideas here – but the general idea that you can develop a reasonably complex model and feed the data in to get the projections isn’t too complicated.

    It would be hard to cope with anything too dynamic, so that’s why it would have to be done on a planned, purposive basis, and on the basis that not too many unexpected outcomes would happen (of course they would in practice, but a model is only a model).

    Something like this would be a great tool for community health and wellbeing planners in councils, because they could also say – if we walked or cycled X hours per week, and ate X amount of fresh fruit and veg, etc etc, the expected projections would be that we’d have x% less diabetes plus reduce emissions by x% and so on.

    (Ideally they’d use measures of wellbeing, not only reductions in illness).

    People like it when you can put numbers on things, even if they are only projections.

    But of course as I think you’ll agree, the real benefits would be probably be difficult to quantify (and arguably trying to quantify them is a misguided idea), such as the benefits of a good community worker such as you are talking about.

    I’m obviously not against measuring things but observation and qualitative research are needed to understand what really matters. Your observations of your community are very interesting, I hope you keep a journal of some kind? (Or you could collect what you’ve written here)

  8. According to the PBL netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, for the first 10 years of the century anthropogenic CO2 emissions increased by an average of 770 million tonnes a year. Emissions in recent years in billions of tonnes of CO2 were

    2010 33.6
    2011 34.7
    2012 35
    2013 35.5
    2014 35.7

    I don’t have their figure for 2015, but I am hoping emissions have already peaked.

    The world has passed, or at least appears likely to have passed, peak coal, iron, aluminium, and copper extraction and that helps.

  9. @Val

    I’m not a fan of my own observations being applicable to the rest of the world. You do know I am supposed to be neuro-atypical?

    I find that listening to the personal stories on Life Matters and other RN radio programs provide as much or more qualitative information about the diversity of human responses to other people and their environment, as do my own observations.

    On Background Briefing last weekend there was a program on farmers who are changing attitudes toward climate change and realising that from now on farming will be more difficult and the conditions they will have to deal with more problematic. I imagine that monoculture like the broadacre farmers do out here might become more problematic and more skills and agility and innovation required to produce food in different ways.

    The point of the program was more agricultural research will be needed. I’d think that a network of farmers who can share their individual problems and ideas for solution could also be useful for directing the research. People out here have good ideas and want to participate in the new agile and innovative economy but they really do not know how to start a new business or enterprise. It has become too complicated and expensive.

    I like the idea of using wellness indicators – people could nominate what being healthy would mean to them and develop ways of working toward that with more diverse ‘treatments’ offered to unhappy unhealthy people rather than what we do now which is to trying and repair the damage done to our bodies and minds by the products that capitalism has provided for our benefit.

    People really are difficult to herd and to force to do anything; I think they have to be attracted toward behaviour that is good for them but that isn’t difficult if they are not fired up to be against things and for a war on things they have been encouraged to hate – like the lefties and other bad people.

    Community and social workers are needed who can translate abstract information into specific behaviours for people who do not have the skills to do this or even the idea that they can take responsibility for their own wellbeing rather than listen to and obey the messages they receive from the lying advertising by capitalists and the marketers who convert human irrationality into profits.

    I don’t keep a journal, I’m not a good writer but I do make fantastic hats. This is a good time of the year for selling spring hats so I should be doing that and there is my excuse for not being able to fully appreciate your idea.

    I really do enjoy living out here; there are some wonderfully interesting people who have done some extraordinary things in their earlier lives that one comes across, who like me are out here to hide from the neo-liberals and their profit driven idea of how to live a life, among those who have only ever had their country town lives that have not been getting better at all.

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